|A statue of Pachacutec in Cusco|
In reality the Inca empire as we know it (the great monuments and lands stretching from the north of the continent to the south) only existed for a short period of time (about 100 years) before the Spanish arrived and the empire collapsed.
The beginnings of the Inca culture are lost in legend but we do know roughly when their culture began to expand. By the 15th century the Inca had managed to usurp the lands around Cusco and the Sacred Valley from their rivals the Chanca but in doing so they had made mortal enemies of them.
The story goes that to prevent further Inca expansion, several tribes of the Chanca people banded together to make war on the Inca people. As they marched on Cusco the Inca emperor despaired; his enemies were too numerous and all hope of victory was lost. Fearing defeat the Inca emperor and his first born son abandoned Cusco and left it to its fate. Fate turned out to be not quite as he had predicted though. His youngest son Cusi Yupanqui remained in Cusco to man the defense and in an extraordinary turn of events he managed to utterly defeat the invading Chanca army. So great was feat that the people said that he had commanded the stones to rise up and fight on his side and from that day on he was known as Pachacuti, the earth shaker and was crowned as the Inca emperor.
|The red shows the Inca empire. The first map is shortly after|
Pachacuti took control and the second is shortly before his
Following the defeat of the Chanca army Pachacuti began a rapid period of expansion of the Inca empire. Over the next 30 years he expanded his empire as far South as Lake Titicaca and up to the region of Ancash in Northern Peru.
After Pachacuti died in 1471 there were only 3 more Inca emperors before the empire was conquered by the Spanish. The following 2 Inca emperors expanded the empire even more than Pachacuti had but in hindsight it was too rapid and by the 3rd Inca emperor the empire had divided between north and south causing a civil war that the Spanish used to their advantage.
Pachacuti was not only a great warrior but he was also a great organiser. Almost all that we think of as Inca was built during his reign including Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Cusco's Temple of the Sun as well as the vast network of roads the Qhapaq N'an.
It is unclear whether the Incas had knowledge of their amazing construction techniques prior to Pachacuti or whether they obtained them during his reign, what is clear though is that he took it to a whole new level and the greatest works of the Incas were all begun by him.
Pachacuti also introduced the Inca system of government. The empire was divided in to four suyus (regions) that were governed by Cusco and the Inca emperor, each region had their own governor (apu) who was usually a loyal subject who came from that region, each region was then sub-divided in to wamani (provinces) with low level governors and then each village or town was subdivided in to ayllus (groups of families). In this manner a clear and definite hierarchy was established in which the empire could be governed.
To keep order two systems were instituted. Firstly a system of redistribution was installed whereby regions that overproduced would donate a portion of their crops to the empire which could then be transferred to poorer regions in need. This ensured the loyalty of regions as they new they would benefit from being in the empire. Sometimes following a conquest some tribes would remain rebellious. In this case they were displaced from their homelands and moved to areas which were loyal to the Inca making them easier to control. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced in this manner.